An Ancient Grain’s Journey into Modern Brewing

It was once thought that Europeans brought beer to the Western Hemisphere, but it turns out people have been brewing their own styles here for hundreds of years!

Pueblo Indians are a collective group of indigenous peoples who have lived in what isnow the Southwestern United States for roughly 1,000 years. While there are distinct divisions and communities, they share a large amount of cultural practices, such as their food and drink. One of the main staples of their diet is corn. As the most dominant crop in that part of the world, it served a multitude of purposes, including being the main ingredient in their beer.

Pueblo style beer is made by fermenting corn kennels with water in ceramic pots. Like other grains, corn contains high amounts of starch, which converts to sugar, eventually breaking down into alcohol. Archeologists have used the remnants of fermented corn in old pottery and believe that the beer Pueblo Indians were drinking was likely fairly low in carbonation and alcohol content. It’s not known if the drink was used recreationally or only in ceremonious practice, but evidence of the drink has been found in states throughout the American Southwest.

Due to corn’s ability to grow in various parts of the world, corn beer is common in communities around the globe. Outside the United States, the most well known style is called Chicha, a slightly sour beer that’s popular throughout the Andes. In South Africa, certain communities make a corn beer called Umqombothi, most commonly served at special occasions such as weddings and funerals.

Likely because of its low alcohol content, entirely corn based beer has not made its way into modern day popularity. That being said, corn is still used in a variety of light lagers and ales as it provides a warm color and a sweet, smooth taste, while also being used to tame denser beers. Corn is also fairly easy to ferment, which has led to its popularity among home brewers.

It may not be the most common ingredient associated with beer, but corn has played an important role in drinks all around the world. So here’s to corn, an unsung ancient hero of brewing. 

by Ruben Estrada